October marks a special anniversary regarding transatlantic air travel. A special anniversary in the world of passenger aviation, with October 4th, 1958 being the date of the first jet-powered transatlantic commercial flight. Here are some variables that affect the speed at which a plane crosses this ocean.
A key factor is the aircraft being used. While modern jetliners are in a similar ballpark regarding speed, there used to be more variation. This was particularly obvious with the supersonic Aérospatiale/BAC Concorde airliner flying between Europe and North America. Transatlantic routes were in between of 3 hours and 30 to 3 hours and 45 minutes. However, under certain conditions, it could fly even faster. For example, its New York-London record is 2 hours, 52 minutes, and 59 seconds.
Route of a transatlantic flight also plays a role in dictating its length. For example, Aer Lingus flies from Shannon in western Ireland to Boston, with the Massachusetts city being further up the eastern coast than New York. These flights duration of just 6 hours and 55 minutes, with the return being even shorter, at 6 hours and 5 minutes.
Looking further south, direct flights across the Atlantic Ocean between Africa and South America are in shorter supply. TAAG Angola Airlines’ flights from its Luanda hub to São Paulo/Guarulhos have a scheduled block time of 8 hours and 30 minutes.
Direction and wind speed
Flights, North America to Europe are faster than those traveling in the opposite direction. This is because these flights benefit not from the earth’s rotation, but rather from jetstreams. These fast-flowing, high-altitude air currents help eastbound flights cross the Atlantic quicker than their westbound counterparts.
In February 2020, a British Airways Boeing 747 set a subsonic transatlantic speed record when, assisted by the winds of Storm Ciara, it flew from New York to London in four hours and 56 minutes. Since 1958, transatlantic jet travel has come a long way!